Kaparot

A Yom Kippur folk-custom

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Then He has mercy on him and decreed, "Redeem him from descending to the Pit, For I have obtained his ransom" (33:24).

To this is added the words: Life for life.

Prayers are then recited, indicating the function of the rooster as a substitute for the individual. The rooster is twirled three times around the head of each man; a hen is used for women. Both birds are then slaughtered and given to the poor. Some people have substituted money, in this ceremony, for the rooster or hen.

One need not go as far as those scholars who see the Kaparot as originating in an offering to Satan in order to understand the many objections to this ritual. Kaparot follows the pattern of the scapegoat, a ritual of riddance, but comes too close to superstition in indicating that one may substitute the death of an animal for one's own life. Among those who objected to the ceremony were the 13th‑century Moses ben Nahman (the Ramban) and the 16th‑century Rabbi Joseph Karo, who wrote in his great work the Shulchan Arukh: "The custom of Kaparot ... is a practice that ought to be prevented." Needless to say, the objections of great authorities were not sufficient to prevent this ritual from becoming an accepted custom among the people.

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Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer

Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer is a former President of the International Rabbinical Assembly, he is one of the founders of the Masorti Movement in Israel and is currently Head of the Masorti Beth Din in Israel.